If you use eBird, and I hope you do, you will notice that when you report a bird that is unusual for your area, eBird requires you to make a comment. The purpose of this is to provide some documentation to support your sighting, making it more valuable for scientific purposes.
Unfortunately, many comments do not accomplish this. I recently saw a report for a bird that would be extremely rare for my area. The comment read, “singing in my tree.” Similar types of comment include “at the feeder” or “I had just spent 30 minutes in the bathroom so I stepped outside for some fresh air and saw this bird.” None of these really provide any useful information.
If you are going to document a bird, whether for eBird or for a bird records committee, make sure your comments actually describe the bird you saw. Things to include in your description include:
the size and shape of the bird in direct comparison to nearby species.
the size and shape of the bill
distinguishing marks or patterns
any vocalizations that you heard
the habitat being used
With the advancement of digital photography in the past decade, it seems that everyone is a photographer now. If you can get a good photo of the bird in question, by all means, do so. But birds do not always pose for photos, and the lighting is often bad. So don’t underestimate the value of a crude sketch and some field notes. Even the most basic drawing, surrounded by brief written descriptions, can provide enough support for a solid rare bird report.
A detailed article on taking field notes, based on my article in Birding, is available on my Patreon.
My annual gull class visited the Coast from Cannon Beach to Gearhart. Stormy weather caused us to postpone the trip by a week. The weather was lovely the day of our trip, but nice weather, combined with the week’s delay, kept our gull total to a modest seven species.
California Gulls are among the most common species on the coast right now.
California Gull in flight, showing the extensive black in the primaries
Herring Gull coming in for a landing
Short-billed Gulls frequent the Necanicum River Estuary in Gearhart. This bird was stamping their feet in the shallow water to stir up food items.
A stop at the Seaside Cove produced a large flock of Surfbirds.
Just a few Black Turnstones were mixed in with the Surfbirds.
The most unusual bird of the trip was this Long-tailed Duck at the Cannon Beach Settling Ponds. This is a young female, whose dark coloring blended in surprisingly well with the water’s surface.
We didn’t have much time to look for songbirds, but White-crowned Sparrows are always obliging.
After a very long dry summer, autumn has finally arrived. While we don’t get the extensive fall colors found in eastern forests, the red Poison Oak highlights the eyes on this Spotted Towhee.
This very ragged Bushtit was found at Wapato Lake NWR, which has finally opened up to birders after a long wait. The refuge will be closed to non-hunters from December-February, but should offer some great birding when it is open.
American Pipits are common migrants this time of year on mudflats and other open habitats.
Male American Kestrel
This American Crow was actively fishing in a tide pool along the Columbia River. I don’t normally think of crows as fish-eaters, but they take advantage of whatever food source is available.
There are still a few American White Pelicans around. They will be gone soon.
Brush Rabbit, blending in with the fall colors
Pacific Tree Frog on a maple leaf. These frogs are very common, but they seldom perch out in the open.
This Black-tailed Deer was just off the path at Cooper Mountain Nature Park.
When the birding is slow, take some time to study the local insects. While identifying some of these creatures makes immature gull ID look easy, some species are big and flashy enough to be accessible. Here are a few creatures from my recent outings, along with my best attempts at identification. Let me know if you find any errors.
Woodland Skipper is one of the most abundant butterfly species in the Pacific NW this time of year.
I believe this is an Orange Sulphur. Sulphurs are very active and seldom perch with their wings open, so getting a good look is extremely difficult.
Cabbage White is another common species.
Carolina Grasshoppers are very plain when at rest, but have a bold black and yellow pattern on their wings when in flight.
Dragonflies come in a great variety of colors and are an increasingly popular target among wildlife watchers. The challenge, of course, is finding one willing to sit still long enough to give you a good look. This is a female Blue Dasher.
I love the turquoise and chestnut colors of this Blue-eyed Darner.
I still prefer birds and herps, but there are a lot of other beautiful creatures out there. As I often say, there is always something to see.
In mid to late summer, when conditions are very hot and dry in Oregon, most of the wildlife activity is found near wetlands, at least until they dry up as well. Here are a few images from various wetlands in the Portland area this summer.
Grasshopper Sparrows are rare everywhere in Oregon, so Portland area birders got quite excited when several of these birds were found at a small prairie restoration site just south of Fernhill Wetlands. Penstemon Prairie is a not an established park, but it is open to the public, and the agency responsible for the site mowed a path around the perimeter to make walking and birding this site easy.
The morning of my visit, it didn’t take long to find a couple Grasshopper Sparrows. They always positioned themselves to be backlit, and I didn’t want to trample the habitat to get a better position, so I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.
A blurry, backlit Grasshopper Sparrow, singing the songs of their people
Lazuli Buntings were more cooperative in the lighting department.
Lazuli Bunting in morning light. Check out the wear on her tail feathers, probably from nesting.
A distant male Lazuli Bunting
Common Yellowthroats are common in this habitat, but they seldom pose out in the open.
Savannah Sparrow, whose song can be quite similar to that of Grasshopper Sparrow
Another Savannah Sparrow. This early morning light is known as Golden Hour. A lot of photographers seek out this lighting, as it is softer than what you find later in the day, but I don’t like the yellow cast it puts on everything.